Sheriff investigating whether Stanford watchman linked to other campus murders | News | Palo Alto Online |


Sheriff investigating whether Stanford watchman linked to other campus murders

Three cases from early 1970s remain unsolved

Editor's note: The details in this article may be disturbing to some readers.

The brutal murder of Arlis Perry, the 19-year-old wife of a pre-med student at Stanford University, baffled investigators for nearly 44 years after a night watchman said he discovered her body in Stanford Memorial Church on Oct. 13, 1974. Through new DNA testing, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office was able to link the murder to the security guard, who was a prime suspect from the beginning, and closed the case last week after he fatally shot himself as officers tried to serve him a search warrant.

The Perry case is not the only murder at Stanford during that time period that went into the cold case files. Perry's was among four unsolved murders on or near the university campus between 1973 and 1974. The cases share some similarities, but investigators have not linked them together.

That could change. On Thursday, Sheriff Laurie Smith initially said that investigators did not think night watchman Stephen Blake Crawford was connected to any other unsolved homicides at Stanford or the local area. But on Friday, she appeared to leave the possibility open.

"We have a chart of unsolved homicides, and we're looking at when he was living in this area," she said, noting that detectives are seeking a correlation between the homicides and Crawford's presence. He was reportedly employed by Stanford from 1971 to 1976.

Here's a look at the Stanford cold cases, plus a map showing their proximity to one another:

The graduate

Leslie Ann Perlov, a 21-year-old Stanford graduate who lived with her parents in Los Altos Hills while working at the North County Law Library, was found Feb. 16, 1973 in the foothills behind the campus, barefoot and with her blue scarf wrapped tightly around her neck, according to an article that appeared in the Stanford Daily on Feb. 20, 1973.

Police reported that she had not been sexually assaulted, though her skirt was pulled up and her pantyhose was stuffed in her mouth. She had been carrying a purse that could not be found at the scene. She had disappeared after work on Feb. 13, and her car was found parked near the entrance to the Old Quarry off Page Mill Road (the present-day location of the entrance to the Dish Trail).

Possible motive: None known.

Suspects: Police were on the lookout for a man with long blond hair whom witnesses saw standing near Perlov's car before she went missing, according to a 1973 article in The San Mateo Times. At one time, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department considered serial killer Ted Bundy as a possible suspect as there were similarities between the Perlov case and his other victims. He had taken a summer class at Stanford in 1967. San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto theorized that the murder was the work of a cult called the Death Angels allegedly responsible for the so-called Zebra street killings in San Francisco, but no one was ever brought to trial.

The physics student

David S. Levine, a 20-year-old physics student, was described by a classmate as "tall and husky," according to the Stanford Daily.

He was last seen at 1 a.m. on Sept. 11, 1973, heading from the physics department -- where he had been doing research on a new medical device for use in the diagnosis of heart disease -- to the dorms at Escondido Village. A graduate student out jogging discovered his body at 3 a.m. on a path near Meyer Library that connected the dormitories to the main campus. He had been stabbed 12 times in the back and once in the chest, according to a Sept. 11, 1973, article in The San Mateo Times.

Possible motive: Investigators believed this was an "act of a murderer seeking revenge." There was no sign of a struggle, indicating that he was taken by surprise. His empty wallet was found in his pants pocket.

Suspects: A suspect was believed to have darted from the shadows of a long hedge lining the path, but a search of the bushes yielded no clues. A December 1973 murder at University of California at Berkeley that closely resembled the Levine slaying was also linked to the Death Angels. No one was ever brought to trial in either case, according to the Stanford Daily.

The daughter of the athletic director

Janet Ann Taylor, 21, the daughter of former Stanford Athletic Director Chuck Taylor, was found barefoot and strangled in a ditch on Stanford-owned property on Sand Hill Road and Manzanita Way by a milk truck driver on March 25, 1974. She was last seen leaving Stanford campus at around 7:05 p.m. the previous night, hitchhiking near Junipero Serra Boulevard and Mayfield Avenue, less than a mile from where Perlov's body was discovered.

She had been visiting friends on campus and was heading home to La Honda, according to an April 1974 article in the Stanford Daily. Officers from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office said Taylor had not been sexually assaulted. Like Perlov, she was barefoot and had been carrying a purse that could not be found at the scene. Police later found her raincoat, belt and shoes strewn at intervals along Sand Hill Road.

Possible Motive: "We don't know who we're looking for. We have no motive," police told the Palo Alto Times shortly after the murder. Taylor had no money in her purse, so police ruled out robbery as motive.

Suspects: Police believed that the killer was someone who gave Taylor a ride. A witness saw a "nervous" man standing next to a white 1964 Pontiac Catalina at about 12:15 a.m. not far from the spot where Taylor's body was later found. The witness reportedly stopped and asked the man if he was having car problems, according to the Stanford Daily. Police considered Ted Bundy a suspect but could not find evidence linking him with the murder. Investigators were exploring possible links to the Perlov case.

The pre-med student's wife

Arlis Perry, 19, worked at a local law firm and was living in student housing at Escondido Village with pre-med sophomore Bruce Perry, her high school sweetheart whom she had recently married. She was reported by the night watchman at 5:45 a.m. on Oct. 13, 1974, stabbed in the head with an ice pick in Stanford Memorial Church, according to an October 2014 article in the Stanford Daily. Perry was last seen praying in the Church at around 11:30 p.m. the previous night after having a minor spat with her husband. Police said she was naked from the waist down and had been sexually molested with an object. She also had wounds on her neck consistent with an attempted strangulation. Her glasses were missing from the scene.

Possible motive:

At the time of the murder, there was public speculation that Perry was the victim of a "ritualistic cult slaying." Santa Clara County Undersheriff Tom Rosa discounted that theory. He told The Stanford Daily that the murder "seems to fit the typical pattern of a sexual psychopath."

After detectives closed the case last week, retired San Jose Mercury columnist Scott Herhold, who has researched the case since the late 1970s, said he believes the night watchman, Stephen Crawford, was out to exact revenge against Stanford University after being demoted within the campus police department a couple of years earlier. The gruesome crime was against Stanford, he said, and "she paid a terrible price."


Initial suspicion focused on Bruce Perry, who was cleared early on, and Crawford.

Police also considered Ted Bundy a suspect, but he had an alibi for the time of the murder.

According to the New York Post, two Santa Clara County sergeants questioned Son of Sam serial killer David Berkowitz in the Attica Correctional Facility in 1979 after he hinted that he may have met Perry's alleged killer. He provided no credible information.

Crawford, who said he discovered her body, was a primary suspect. Herhold said police believed the murderer was someone familiar with Memorial Church and its schedule. Crawford was never cleared, but police didn't have enough evidence to charge him with a crime -- until recently when detectives were able to make the connection using new DNA evidence.

Related content:

Webcast: Stanford Memorial Church murder

VIDEO: Former San Jose Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold discusses the Arlis Perry murder


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Linda Taaffe

What is it worth to you?


5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 3, 2018 at 11:23 am

What is the traditional murder rate at Stanford? 4 murders in less than 2 years sounds very high to me. I hope that new technology can solve more of these cases.

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